Abby Wilkes pulled the hood of her jacket over her head and tightened its Velcro strap. She hunched over, protecting herself from the frigid north winds, but still pellets of sleet stung her cheeks. Abby yawned, glancing up at the dark sky. It was so early in the morning, she was still feeling stuffed from her turkey dinner the day before!
Her son Justin, sweet little Justin, would be sound asleep curled up in his warm cozy bed. It was that very vision that made the whole miserable experience of standing outside a closed department store before dawn drenched in sleet worthwhile. At least to Abby.
A year ago, she never dreamed she'd one day be a young single mother. Abby, Blake, and Justin were the picture perfect family...
The doctor re-entered the office carrying Abby's file. He fell into his leather chair and pulled off his glasses with a stern look. Abby and Blake squeezed one another's hands.
Dr. Markham cleared his throat and prepared to deliver the news. "Abby, Blake, I have the results of the amniocentesis. You're going to be the proud parents of a baby girl."
It was wonderful news! "Justy's going to have a little sister!" Abby cried, opening the flood gate of happy tears.
But Dr. Markham looked anything but happy.
"What's the matter?" Blake asked, a panicked tone coloring his voice. "Is she okay?"
The doctor nodded somberly. "She is. For now."
Terrifying memories of Abby's high risk pregnancy with Justin filled their heads and knotted their stomachs.
"What are you saying?" Abby asked in a whisper, her happy tears dissolving into tears of fear.
"I'm saying there are no signs of the problem we saw with your son, so I'm cautiously optimistic for the moment. We'll have to keep a very close eye on the two of you though, because complications could arise at any time."
Pools of tears formed in Blake's eyes as he gazed at his wife and said a silent prayer that all would be well for Abby and the baby.
Dr. Markham continued. "But you both knew that going into this pregnancy. You also knew that I wasn't wild about your idea of trying to give your son a sibling," he directed to Abby. "It just seemed too risky to me. That said, I understand why you made the decision you did. Now it's my responsibility to make sure both mother and daughter survive the journey to birth."
Blake's jaw dropped. "You're saying Abby could die ?" he shrieked.
The doctor looked over at Abby, whose face had turned a delicate shade of pink.
In a near blind rage, Blake jumped out of his chair. "What in the hell is going on here?" His voice was loud and rough with agitation. When no one spoke, he turned his attention to the doctor. "Damn it, someone better start explaining!"
Abby worried her lower lip.
"Abby," the doctor began gently, "I think you should be the one to explain this to your husband."
She wrung her hands and tucked a stray strand of long blond hair behind her ear. How could she tell her husband what she had purposely kept from him for so many months? Blake wanted a big family more than anything in the world, and Abby wanted to be the one to give it to him. She wanted to give it to him so much that she was willing to sacrifice her own life to do it.
"Abby?" Blake barked, causing her to jump.
"First off, you have to realize that the odds are not very great that-"
"You could die from this pregnancy?!?" he interrupted frantically.
Abby nodded silently. "But Blake, you have to understand why it did it," she cried. "I wanted to give you the large family you always wanted. I love you, love you more than life itself!" A tear dropped from her cheek and fell onto her turquoise chenille sweater. Such a happy color for such a sad day...
Blake's eyes widened, wild with anger. "If you loved me so much, why in the hell would you even risk taking my best friend away from me?"
"Best friend?" Her voice was hoarse from the stress and tears.
"That's right," Blake spat back. "I consider you my best friend as well as my wife. When something goes wrong, it's you I turn to for comfort. When something great happens, you're the one I want to share it with!"
Abby never knew he felt that way. Blake was never an overly emotional man to begin with, but you'd never know that from the passion he displayed that day in the doctor's office. Abby covered her mouth. "Oh, God," she croaked. "I'm so sorry! I never knew you felt that way! I kept fixating on your love of children and wanting a large family..." her voice trailed off.
"Hey you two, let me interrupt here," Dr. Markham chimed in. "What's done is done. Stress will only aggravate the situation. We need to focus on keeping mother and daughter healthy and calm."
Abby looked up at Blake whose posture had finally relaxed a bit. Her eyes were sad and pleading at the same time. "I'm so very sorry..." she repeated. She stood up, looking him straight in the eye. "Will you ever be able to forgive me?"
After a few moments of tense silence, Blake folded Abby into his arms. As they clung to each other, they both burst into a sorrowful weep. Dr. Markham left the room quietly, giving them time to deal with their emotions.
It was shaping up to be a battle of epic proportions as a line of people started to form outside the store. Abby glanced at her watch. 4 a.m. Just two short hours to go, she sighed to herself, leaning up against the building.
"Name's Paul Clark," the man standing next to her said, extending his gloved hand.
Abby reached for his hand reluctantly. "Abby Wilkes," she mumbled, avoiding direct eye contact at any cost.
"Nice to meetcha, Miss Wilkes," he smiled.
She nodded and mumbled something that sounded like "likewise". Finally deciding that two hours was an awfully long time to stare up at the dark sky, Abby spoke. "Nice day to be shopping, isn't it?" She smiled as she turned in the direction of the stranger. Her mouth fell open at the sight of him. Stray thick brown curls of hair peeked out from under his stocking cap, and even in the dim light of the store's big sign she could see that his eyes were gentle and kind.
"No kidding," he laughed, pulling the collar of his coat closer to his neck. "So what brings you out on such a lovely morning?"
"Duh," she responded with biting sarcasm. Seeing his hurt look, her pursed lips softened. "I'm sorry," she apologized. "You didn't deserve that."
"You're right, I didn't." How conceited, she thought to herself. But he continued speaking. "However I suspect a lady like you has a reason for being in such a mood. Some women are just that way you know." He banged his foot against the store's brick building to shake off the snow from the top of his boot.
She smiled at that. "Well thanks for not just assuming I'm a bitch!" Abby laughed, the sound muffled by the thick layer of sleet and snow.
He smiled back, his eyes narrowing into contented slits. The time was going to pass much more quickly than she thought...
That evening, Abby, Blake, and Justin cuddled up on the sofa with a huge bowl of buttery popcorn. "Finding Nemo", Justin's Christmas gift from Abby's sister Katerina, was the movie of the night. It was a favorite of Justin's, but Abby had never had the chance to see if from the very beginning. Not until that night.
Her breath caught when in usual Disney form the mother was killed off early on. Blake reached over and held her hand, fighting a wave of nausea himself. They hadn't told Justin about the potential problems. He was only five years old, and Abby and Blake didn't want to scare him unnecessarily.
When they decided to take a potty break in the middle of the movie, Abby stood up at stretched. A rumble gurgled deep within her stomach. How could she still be hungry? She had just eaten a massive quantity of popcorn. Abby lay her hand on her slightly protruding abdomen, trying to decide if the faint movement she felt was the baby or her growling stomach.
"Hungry, Babe?" Blake asked as he came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her.
"I shouldn't be. Not after all that popcorn."
"What do you crave?" Blake asked. "Anything." Abby closed her eyes and thought about it. "Come on, tell me," he insisted, kissing her silky neck.
"Hmm... I've got it! Cookies and cream ice cream! Has to be Edy's though," she grinned.
"Piece of cake. I just picked up a fresh tub after work last night." Abby looked at him guiltily. "Let me guess... it's gone?" She nodded with an impish grin. Blake released her and grabbed his coat from the brass hall tree near the front door. He walked back over to Abby and took both of her hands in his. "We'll get through this," he promised, squeezing her hands for emphasis.
He placed a tender kiss on her lips, told her he loved her, and then called out, "Be back in a few minutes, sport. Love ya, buddy!" And with that he was out the door.
"Need some Chapstick, Miss Wilkes?"
Abby startled back to the here and now. It was Paul's voice asking her the question. "Uh, no. Why?"
Paul gestured toward his lips. "I saw you touching your lips... Thought they might be sore from this nasty weather."
"Ah," Abby responded, finally putting what had happened together. She was touching her lips where Blake had kissed her that night. "I'm fine. Thanks." If only the real problem were as simple as merely having chapped lips, she sighed. "By the way, call me Abby. The Miss Wilkes stuff is kind of formal for a department store parking lot, don't you think?"
He chuckled. "You've got a feisty sense of humor," he observed. "I like that in a woman."
.... There is more of this story ...